“We help people find answers through chants and the energy of plants”
Rawa Muñoz Agustín is a lawyer, artist and Onaya from Pucallpa, in the Peruvian Amazon. We invited him to speak to anthropologist Francesco D’Angelo about his traditional healing practice, which he inherited from his ancestors. Rawa is 35 years old and has led ayahuasca ceremonies all over the world, although he prefers to practice in Lima, the capital of Peru, and in his hometown.
Francesco D’Angelo: How and why did your healing journey begin?
Rawa Muñoz: I come from a long line of healers who specialize in the ayahuasca ceremony. I am the son of Antonio Muñoz, also known as Senen Pani, a great teacher who sadly passed during the pandemic. Also, my grandparents are Onaya, which means they are traditional healers who use their knowledge of plants to help others. On my mother’s side, my grandparents are Muraya, the strongest and most ancient of healers, who have mastered almost all plants. The title of Muraya is reserved to a select few and depends on lineage.
Who taught you the practice of traditional healing?
RM: I learned from my father and my grandparents. They gave me ayahuasca for the first time when I was 6 years old; they wanted me to get to know the plant. When I was 18 my grandfather said I was ready and let me try it again. I fell into a deep sleep, but I could hear everything, and when I was able to get up we all knew that I was ready to face the plants’ messages and to relay them to others.
Within the realm of traditional medicine, how do you identify?
RM: I identify as Onaya: a traditional medicine man who helps others heal through the ayahuasca plant. We are healers, and we aren’t here to profit from our traditions and knowledge. We help people find answers through chants and the energy of plants; we center them and show them their path. It is up to each person to make a decision. There are plenty of Mishi Sheaibo (mishi, vine, sheaibo, he who takes it) today; these are people who take ayahuasca but aren’t necessarily trained as Onayas.
Can you tell us a little more about your role as Onaya?
RM: As masters of the soul, we search for peace and wisdom in medicine. We understand we must follow the mandate of leading healing ceremonies for the wellbeing of others. We look for balance.
Where does the healing energy come from?
RM: It comes from the spirit of the plants. It comes from beyond. The plants tell you what a person needs, and we communicate this need through ícaros.
What are ícaros?
RM: They are chants that the plants convey to us and we, the Onaya, sing them to our patients. They are meant to guide our patients so they can find their path, find their balance.
Tell us more about the role of plants in the healing ceremony.
RM: The plants tell me what to do, how to heal, what to sing to the patient depending on what he or she needs. The plant communicates with me and I convey that message to each person.
And how do you establish that communication with the plant?
RM: Through diets. During our training we take (consume) different plants so we can get to know them and establish a relationship. It’s a long process; it requires discipline and allows us to receive the messages the plants convey, precisely because we know them intimately.
You’ve spoken of patients finding their center. How important is the idea of balance to your practice?
RM: Harmony or balance is precisely what the plant teaches you. Everyone learns from the plant in a different way; it shows you the path. I see it, but I don’t force anyone to act. The ayahuasca plant teaches you that you must be centered, in balance.
What elements can’t be missing from a healing ceremony?
RM: Each person’s balance. The most important thing is to be present and attentive with the patient. I try to share the knowledge of my ancestors; that’s enough for me. You also need the chacruna (mixture) with the ayahuasca plant, and nothing else.
How does your healing practice benefit the health and wellness of your patients?
RM: When you are healthy, you are in balance and at peace. That’s what is important for self development. Each person has their own path and, sometimes, we may become stuck or find obstacles… This is when we need clarity. That’s what traditional healing provides: when you heal you become emotionally unstuck —and this is what brings wellness.
What’s the difference between your healing practice and Western medicine?
RM: There isn’t a difference; they complement each other. There are things that pills can heal and things they can’t. My father, who was a clinical psychologist, always said that ayahuasca could go where necessary when pills couldn’t go further. Ayahuasca doesn’t cure everything. It treats emotional problems, not physical ones. If you were physically ill I would take you to a hospital. In any case, Western medicine comes from plants, right? Scientists have studied the properties of plants for years and years to find the medicines that cure people of their physical illnesses today.
Do you work alone or with a team?
RM: Since my father died I work alone. I used to work with him, learning from him the same way I did from my grandparents. Now, I can take the plant or be in the same ceremony as another Onaya, but I try not to interfere with their practice.
You’re also an artist and a musician, how does your healing practice relate to your artistic practice?
RM: Through art, theater and music I share healing and wellbeing. The same thing goes for my profession: being Onaya and a lawyer is different, but it is linked in terms of energy —both professions are about doing good for others. All my practices are complementary and I apply myself to them according to how I was raised and what my ancestors have taught me.